What? Oh, come on. You really want me to do this? I was going to leave it at "Northwestern sucks," but that tempts fate and makes me feel guilty after a week of crappy blogging. So an abbreviated preview but a preview.
Fair warning: next week's preview is going to be "Ball State sucks." And that's all. I'll spend the time assembling a recruiting update.
Run Offense vs. Northwestern
I expect a return to the early days of the season, where we plow mercilessly into stacked fronts against teams that can't handle it. Though the Northwestern rush defense is statistically only slightly worse than average, they were ripped for 249 yards by PJ Hill and 137 by Tony Hunt in the only two games they faced actual Big Ten rushing attacks. (Michigan State sort of had to abandon the run after that whole 38-3 thing.) I don't expect Michigan to replicate Hill's 7.1 YPC, but anything less than 4.5 would be a disappointment, especially since the Wildcats' leading tackler, Nick Roach, is out for the year.
This is essentially a MAC level defense and Michigan will probably treat them with the contempt they reserve for apparently inferior foes, running blindly into stacked fronts. It'll work, it'll be boring, and it'll be frustrating.
Key Matchup: Minor and Grady versus Competence. No doubt they'll get some early carries; hopefully they prove capable enough to give Hart a nice long breather.
Pass Offense vs. Northwestern
Manningham, Massey, and Ecker are all out. Adrian Arrington's legal situation makes his status for this game questionable. Rueben Riley may or may not play after suffering some sort of leg injury towards the end of the first half versus Iowa. Even when healthy and playing competition we think is dangerous to us we run lots. To date we've run about 2/3rds of the time.
So... yeah. This is probably going to end up one of those days where Henne throws something like 18 times and completes 14 of them. Without anything resembling a deep threat (if Arrington is out), he'll probably end up with 150 yards or so. Not that the Northwestern defense is much good -- 84th in pass efficiency D, 104th in yardage terms -- but we're not likely to throw unless we have to.
Key Matchup: Breaston versus His Traitorous Hands. Mostly dormant these last few weeks but even I, a staunch defender of the man, don't think a game with him as the #1 receiver appeals much.
Run Defense vs. Northwestern
This is the one thing the Wildcats are good at, 31st in the country. Tyrell Sutton is having a rougher time of it this year without Brett Basanez to take some heat off of him, but the Wildcats are managing against the weaker defenses on their schedule.
With the #1 ranked rushing defense in the country, Michigan does not qualify as "weaker" than anyone, however, and the results from Northwestern's games against two similar opponents, Penn State and Wisconsin, do not project well for NW. Strangely, Sutton only got eight carries in each game, totalling 58 yards between them. The quarterback ran (or fled quite a bit); backup Terrell Jordan also got some carries. The totals: 56 carries for 203 yards, or 3.6 per, or slightly more than the season averages yielded by the two. If Northwestern turns in a similar performance they'll probably beat the 1.5 YPC Michigan is ceding.
So they've got that going for them.
Key Matchup: Michigan perimeter defenders versus a relatively mobile quarterback. We reached this point in 2004 with a rushing defense almost as good as this one only to see it fall apart QB draw by QB draw. It's doubtful such a thing will repeat, but still possible.
Pass Defense vs. Northwestern
I actually taped the Northwestern-Penn State game to review it. What can I say? I have a disease. The lingering impression from that game was the Northwestern quarterback -- whoever it was -- running for his life constantly. The offensive line was a sieve against a defense that hasn't shown much in the way of consistent pass rush versus the pulse-bearing. With 12 sacks and three broken quarterbacks left in its wake the past two weeks, the Michigan defense does not look like a good matchup. In other news: man bites dog and you can't breathe in space.
Though the Northwestern offense managed to find something resembling a passing game for the first time all year against Michigan State, let's review: Michigan State. Michigan. Okay. There's a reason Northwestern is 107th in passing efficiency.
Key Matchup: CJ Bacher versus complete annhilation.
...will be irrelevant.
Key Matchup: As above.
Okay... I break many rules by posting this but I must anyway:
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Everyone remains healthy.
- Prescott Burgess is not tackled at midfield and arrested by the Ohio National Guard for stealing baseball cards when he was nine.
- We show up.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 0 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for You Lost To Michigan State, -1 for And Did I Mention You Led That Game 38-3, -1 for You Lost To UNH And This Isn't Hockey, -1 for Seriously, They're I-AA, -1 for SERIOUSLY.).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... look for the portal back into my home universe.
Win will cause me to... yawn.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: We win by lots.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Breaston touchdown. I have to be right about this eventually.
- Ohio State loses to Minnesota by 80 points.
- 30-6, Michigan.